Neural effects of acute stress on appetite: A magnetoencephalography study

PLoS One. 2020 Jan 22;15(1):e0228039. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0228039. eCollection 2020.


Stress is prevalent in modern society and can affect human health through its effects on appetite. Therefore, in the present study, we aimed to clarify the neural mechanisms by which acute stress affects appetite in healthy, non-obese males during fasting. In total, 22 volunteers participated in two experiments (stress and control conditions) on different days. The participants performed a stress-inducing speech-and-mental-arithmetic task under both conditions, and then viewed images of food, during which, their neural activity was recorded using magnetoencephalography (MEG). In the stress condition, the participants were told to perform the speech-and-mental-arithmetic task again subsequently to viewing the food images; however, another speech-and-mental-arithmetic task was not performed actually. Subjective levels of stress and appetite were then assessed using a visual analog scale. Electrocardiography was performed to assess the index of heart rate variability reflecting sympathetic nerve activity. The findings showed that subjective levels of stress and sympathetic nerve activity were increased in the MEG session in the stress condition, whereas appetite gradually increased in the MEG session only in the control condition. The decrease in alpha band power in the frontal pole caused by viewing the food images was greater in the stress condition than in the control condition. These findings suggest that acute stress can suppress the increase of appetite, and this suppression is associated with the frontal pole. The results of the present study may provide valuable clues to gain a further understanding of the neural mechanisms by which acute stress affects appetite. However, since the stress examined in the present study was related to the expectation of forthcoming stressful event, our present findings may not be generalized to the stress unrelated to the expectation of forthcoming stressful event.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Appetite Regulation / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Fasting / psychology
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography / methods
  • Male
  • Mental Fatigue / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 16H03248 (A.I.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.